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Title: Early Bardic Literature, Ireland.
Author: O'Grady, Standish, 1846-1928
Language: English
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By Standish O'Grady

11 Lower Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin

Scattered over the surface of every country in Europe may be found
sepulchral monuments, the remains of pre-historic times and nations, and
of a phase of life will civilisation which has long since passed away.
No country in Europe is without its cromlechs and dolmens, huge earthen
tumuli, great flagged sepulchres, and enclosures of tall pillar-stones.
The men by whom these works were made, so interesting in themselves, and
so different from anything of the kind erected since, were not strangers
and aliens, but our own ancestors, and out of their rude civilisation
our own has slowly grown. Of that elder phase of European civilisation
no record or tradition has been anywhere bequeathed to us. Of its
nature, and the ideas and sentiments whereby it was sustained, nought
may now be learned save by an examination of those tombs themselves, and
of the dumb remnants, from time to time exhumed out of their soil--rude
instruments of clay, flint, brass, and gold, and by speculations and
reasonings founded upon these archaeological gleanings, meagre and

For after the explorer has broken up, certainly desecrated, and perhaps
destroyed, those noble sepulchral raths; after he has disinterred
the bones laid there once by pious hands, and the urn with its
unrecognisable ashes of king or warrior, and by the industrious labour
of years hoarded his fruitless treasure of stone celt and arrow-head, of
brazen sword and gold fibula and torque; and after the savant has rammed
many skulls with sawdust, measuring their capacity, and has adorned them
with some obscure label, and has tabulated and arranged the implements
and decorations of flint and metal in the glazed cases of the cold gaunt
museum, the imagination, unsatisfied and revolted, shrinks back from all
that he has done. Still we continue to inquire, receiving from him no
adequate response, Who were those ancient chieftains and warriors for
whom an affectionate people raised those strange tombs? What life did
they lead? What deeds perform? How did their personality affect the
minds of their people and posterity? How did our ancestors look upon
those great tombs, certainly not reared to be forgotten, and how did
they--those huge monumental pebbles and swelling raths--enter into and
affect the civilisation or religion of the times?

We see the cromlech with its massive slab and immense supporting
pillars, but we vainly endeavour to imagine for whom it was first
erected, and how that greater than cyclopean house affected the minds
of those who made it, or those who were reared in its neighbourhood
or within reach of its influence. We see the stone cist with its great
smooth flags, the rocky cairn, and huge barrow and massive walled
cathair, but the interest which they invariably excite is only
aroused to subside again unsatisfied. From this department of European
antiquities the historian retires baffled, and the dry savant is alone
master of the field, but a field which, as cultivated by him alone,
remains barren or fertile only in things the reverse of exhilarating. An
antiquarian museum is more melancholy than a tomb.

But there is one country in Europe in which, by virtue of a marvellous
strength and tenacity of the historical intellect, and of filial
devotedness to the memory of their ancestors, there have been preserved
down into the early phases of mediaeval civilisation, and then committed
to the sure guardianship of manuscript, the hymns, ballads, stories, and
chronicles, the names, pedigrees, achievements, and even characters, of
those ancient kings and warriors over whom those massive cromlechs were
erected and great cairns piled. There is not a conspicuous sepulchral
monument in Ireland, the traditional history of which is not recorded
in our ancient literature, and of the heroes in whose honour they were
raised. In the rest of Europe there is not a single barrow, dolmen, or
cist of which the ancient traditional history is recorded; in Ireland
there is hardly one of which it is not. And these histories are in many
cases as rich and circumstantial as that of men of the greatest eminence
who have lived in modern times. Granted that the imagination which for
centuries followed with eager interest the lives of these heroes, beheld
as gigantic what was not so, as romantic and heroic what was neither one
nor the other, still the great fact remains, that it was beside and in
connection with the mounds and cairns that this history was elaborated,
and elaborated concerning them and concerning the heroes to whom they
were sacred.

On the plain of Tara, beside the little stream Nemanna, itself famous
as that which first turned a mill-wheel in Ireland, there lies a barrow,
not itself very conspicuous in the midst of others, all named and
illustrious in the ancient literature of the country. The ancient hero
there interred is to the student of the Irish bardic literature a
figure as familiar and clearly seen as any personage in the Biographia
Britannica. We know the name he bore as a boy and the name he bore as
a man. We know the names of his father and his grandfather, and of the
father of his grandfather, of his mother, and the father and mother of
his mother, and the pedigrees and histories of each of these. We know
the name of his nurse, and of his children, and of his wife, and the
character of his wife, and of the father and mother of his wife, and
where they lived and were buried. We know all the striking events of his
boyhood and manhood, the names of his horses and his weapons, his own
character and his friends, male and female. We know his battles, and the
names of those whom he slew in battle, and how he was himself slain, and
by whose hands. We know his physical and spiritual characteristics,
the device upon his shield, and how that was originated, carved, and
painted, by whom. We know the colour of his hair, the date of his birth
and of his death, and his relations, in time and otherwise, with the
remainder of the princes and warriors with whom, in that mound-raising
period of our history, he was connected, in hostility or friendship; and
all this enshrined in ancient song, the transmitted traditions of the
people who raised that barrow, and who laid within it sorrowing their
brave ruler and, defender. That mound is the tomb of Cuculain, once king
of the district in which Dundalk stands to-day, and the ruins of whose
earthen fortification may still be seen two miles from that town.

This is a single instance, and used merely as an example, but one out
of a multitude almost as striking. There is not a king of Ireland,
described as such in the ancient annals, whose barrow is not mentioned
in these or other compositions, and every one of which may at the
present day be identified where the ignorant plebeian or the ignorant
patrician has not destroyed them. The early History of Ireland clings
around and grows out of the Irish barrows until, with almost the
universality of that primeval forest from which Ireland took one of
its ancient names, the whole isle and all within it was clothed with
a nobler raiment, invisible, but not the less real, of a full and
luxuriant history, from whose presence, all-embracing, no part was free.
Of the many poetical and rhetorical titles lavished upon this country,
none is truer than that which calls her the Isle of Song. Her ancient
history passed unceasingly into the realm of artistic representation;
the history of one generation became the poetry of the next, until the
whole island was illuminated and coloured by the poetry of the bards.
Productions of mere fancy and imagination these songs are not,
though fancy and imagination may have coloured and shaped all their
subject-matter, but the names are names of men and women who once lived
and died in Ireland, and over whom their people raised the swelling rath
and reared the rocky cromlech. In the sepulchral monuments their names
were preserved, and in the performance of sacred rites, and the holding
of games, fairs, and assemblies in their honour, the memory of their
achievements kept fresh, till the traditions that clung around these
places were inshrined in tales which were finally incorporated in the
Leabhar na Huidhré and the Book of Leinster.

Pre-historic narrative is of two kinds--in one the imagination is at
work consciously, in the other unconsciously. Legends of the former
class are the product of a lettered and learned age. The story floats
loosely in a world of imagination. The other sort of pre-historic
narrative clings close to the soil, and to visible and tangible
objects. It may be legend, but it is legend believed in as history never
consciously invented, and growing out of certain spots of the earth's
surface, and supported by and drawing its life from the soil like a
natural growth.

Such are the early Irish tales that cling around the mounds and
cromlechs as that by which they are sustained, which was originally
their source, and sustained them afterwards in a strong enduring life.
It is evident that these cannot be classed with stories that float
vaguely in an ideal world, which may happen in one place as well as
another, and in which the names might be disarrayed without changing
the character and consistency of the tale, and its relations, in time or
otherwise, with other tales.

Foreigners are surprised to find the Irish claim for their own country
an antiquity and a history prior to that of the neighbouring countries.
Herein lie the proof and the explanation. The traditions and history of
the mound-raising period have in other countries passed away. Foreign
conquest, or less intrinsic force of imagination, and pious sentiment
have suffered them to fall into oblivion; but in Ireland they have been
all preserved in their original fulness and vigour, hardly a hue has
faded, hardly a minute circumstance or articulation been suffered to

The enthusiasm with which the Irish intellect seized upon the grand
moral life of Christianity, and ideals so different from, and so hostile
to, those of the heroic age, did not consume the traditions or destroy
the pious and reverent spirit in which men still looked back upon those
monuments of their own pagan teachers and kings, and the deep spirit
of patriotism and affection with which the mind still clung to the
old heroic age, whose types were warlike prowess, physical beauty,
generosity, hospitality, love of family and nation, and all those noble
attributes which constituted the heroic character as distinguished from
the saintly. The Danish conquest, with its profound modification of
Irish society, and consequent disruption of old habits and conditions
of life, did not dissipate it; nor the more dangerous conquest of the
Normans, with their own innate nobility of character, chivalrous daring,
and continental grace and civilisation; nor the Elizabethan convulsions
and systematic repression and destruction of all native phases of
thought and feeling. Through all these storms, which successively
assailed the heroic literature of ancient Ireland, it still held itself
undestroyed. There were still found generous minds to shelter and shield
the old tales and ballads, to feel the nobleness of that life of which
they were the outcome, and to resolve that the soil of Ireland should
not, so far as they had the power to prevent it, be denuded of its
raiment of history and historic romance, or reduced again to primeval
nakedness. The fruit of this persistency and unquenched love of country
and its ancient traditions, is left to be enjoyed by us. There is not
through the length and breadth of the country a conspicuous rath or
barrow of which we cannot find the traditional history preserved in
this ancient literature. The mounds of Tara, the great barrows along
the shores of the Boyne, the raths of Slieve Mish, and Rathcrogan, and
Teltown, the stone caiseals of Aran and Innishowen, and those that alone
or in smaller groups stud the country over, are all, or nearly all,
mentioned in this ancient literature, with the names and traditional
histories of those over whom they were raised.

There is one thing to be learned from all this, which is, that we, at
least, should not suffer these ancient monuments to be destroyed, whose
history has been thus so astonishingly preserved. The English farmer may
tear down the barrow which is unfortunate enough to be situated within
his bounds. Neither he nor his neighbours know or can tell anything
about its ancient history; the removed earth will help to make his
cattle fatter and improve his crops, the stones will be useful to pave
his roads and build his fences, and the savant can enjoy the rest; but
the Irish farmer and landlord should not do or suffer this.

The instinctive reverence of the peasantry has hitherto been a great
preservative; but the spread of education has to a considerable extent
impaired this kindly sentiment, and the progress of scientific farming,
and the anxiety of the Royal Irish Academy to collect antiquarian
trifles, have already led to the reckless destruction of too many. I
think that no one who reads the first two volumes of this history would
greatly care to bear a hand in the destruction of that tomb at Tara,
in which long since his people laid the bones of Cuculain; and I think,
too, that they would not like to destroy any other monument of the same
age, when they know that the history of its occupant and its own name
are preserved in the ancient literature, and that they may one day learn
all that is to be known concerning it. I am sure that if the case were
put fairly to the Irish landlords and country gentlemen, they would
neither inflict nor permit this outrage upon the antiquities of their
country. The Irish country gentleman prides himself on his love of
trees, and entertains a very wholesome contempt for the mercantile boor
who, on purchasing an old place, chops down the best timber for the
market. And yet a tree, though cut down, may be replaced. One elm tree
is as good as another, and the thinned wood, by proper treatment, will
be as dense as ever; but the ancient mound, once carted away, can never
be replaced any more. When the study of the Irish literary records is
revived, as it certainly will be revived, the old history of each of
these raths and cromlechs will be brought again into the light, and
one new interest of a beautiful and edifying nature attached to the
landscape, and affecting wholly for good the minds of our people.

Irishmen are often taunted with the fact that their history is yet
unwritten, but that the Irish, as a nation, have been careless of their
past is refuted by the facts which I have mentioned. A people who alone
in Europe preserved, not in dry chronicles alone, but illuminated and
adorned with all that fancy could suggest in ballad, and tale, and rude
epic, the history of the mound-raising period, are not justly liable
to this taunt. Until very modern times, history was the one absorbing
pursuit of the Irish secular intellect, the delight of the noble, and
the solace of the vile.

At present, indeed, the apathy on this subject is, I believe, without
parallel in the world. It would seem as if the Irish, extreme in all
things, at one time thought of nothing but their history, and, at
another, thought of everything but it. Unlike those who write on
other subjects, the author of a work on Irish history has to labour
simultaneously at a two-fold task--he has to create the interest to
which he intends to address himself.

The pre-Christian period of Irish history presents difficulties from
which the corresponding period in the histories of other countries is
free. The surrounding nations escape the difficulty by having nothing to
record. The Irish historian is immersed in perplexity on account of the
mass of material ready to his hand. The English have lost utterly all
record of those centuries before which the Irish historian stands with
dismay and hesitation, not through deficiency of materials, but through
their excess. Had nought but the chronicles been preserved the task
would have been simple. We would then have had merely to determine
approximately the date of the introduction of letters, and allowing a
margin on account of the bardic system and the commission of family and
national history to the keeping of rhymed and alliterated verse, fix
upon some reasonable point, and set down in order, the old successions
of kings and the battles and other remarkable events. But in Irish
history there remains, demanding treatment, that other immense mass of
literature of an imaginative nature, illuminating with anecdote and tale
the events and personages mentioned simply and without comment by
the chronicler. It is this poetic literature which constitutes the
stumbling-block, as it constitutes also the glory, of early Irish
history, for it cannot be rejected and it cannot be retained. It cannot
be rejected, because it contains historical matter which is consonant
with and illuminates the dry lists of the chronologist, and it cannot
be retained, for popular poetry is not history; and the task of
distinguishing In such literature the fact from the fiction--where there
is certainly fact and certainly fiction--is one of the most difficult to
which the intellect can apply itself. That this difficulty has not been
hitherto surmounted by Irish writers is no just reproach. For the last
century, intellects of the highest attainments, trained and educated
to the last degree, have been vainly endeavouring to solve a similar
question in the far less copious and less varied heroic literature of
Greece. Yet the labours of Wolfe, Grote, Mahaffy, Geddes, and Gladstone,
have not been sufficient to set at rest the small question, whether it
was one man or two or many who composed the Iliad and Odyssey, while the
reality of the achievements of Achilles and even his existence might be
denied or asserted by a scholar without general reproach. When this is
the case with regard to the great heroes of the Iliad, I fancy it will
be some time before the same problem will have been solved for the minor
characters, and as it affects Thersites, or that eminent artist who
dwelt at home in Hyla, being by far the most excellent of leather
cutters. When, therefore, Greek still meets Greek in an interminable and
apparently bloodless contest over the disputed body of the Iliad, and
still no end appears, surely it would be madness for any one to sit down
and gaily distinguish true from false in the immense and complex mass
of the Irish bardic literature, having in his ears this century-lasting
struggle over a single Greek poem and a single small phase of the
pre-historic life of Hellas.

In the Irish heroic literature, the presence or absence of the
marvellous supplies _no test whatsoever_ as to the general truth or
falsehood of the tale in which they appear. The marvellous is supplied
with greater abundance in the account of the battle of Clontarf, and
the wars of the O'Briens with the Normans, than in the tale in which
is described the foundation of Emain Macha by Kimbay. Exact-thinking,
scientific France has not hesitated to paint the battles of Louis XIV.
with similar hues; and England, though by no means fertile in angelic
interpositions, delights to adorn the barren tracts of her more popular
histories with apocryphal anecdotes.

How then should this heroic literature of Ireland be treated in
connection with the history of the country? The true method would
certainly be to print it exactly as it is without excision or
condensation. Immense it is, and immense it must remain. No men living,
and no men to live, will ever so exhaust the meaning of any single tale
as to render its publication unnecessary for the study of others. The
order adopted should be that which the bards themselves deter mined, any
other would be premature, and I think no other will ever take its place.
At the commencement should stand the passage from the Book of Invasions,
describing the occupation of the isle by Queen Keasair and her
companions, and along with it every discoverable tale or poem dealing
with this event and those characters. After that, all that remains of
the cycle of which Partholan was the protagonist. Thirdly, all
that relates to Nemeth and his sons, their wars with curt Kical the
bow-legged, and all that relates to the Fomoroh of the Nemedian epoch,
then first moving dimly in the forefront of our history. After that, the
great Fir-bolgic cycle, a cycle janus-faced, looking on one side to the
mythological period and the wars of the gods, and on the other, to the
heroic, and more particularly to the Ultonian cycle. In the next place,
the immense mass of bardic literature which treats of the Irish gods
who, having conquered the Fir-bolgs, like the Greek gods of the age of
gold dwelt visibly in the island until the coming of the Clan Milith,
out of Spain. In the sixth, the Milesian invasion, and every accessible
statement concerning the sons and kindred of Milesius. In the seventh,
the disconnected tales dealing with those local heroes whose history
is not connected with the great cycles, but who in the _fasti_ fill
the spaces between the divine period and the heroic. In the eighth, the
heroic cycles, the Ultonian, the Temairian, and the Fenian, and after
these the historic tales that, without forming cycles, accompany the
course of history down to the extinction of Irish independence, and
the transference to aliens of all the great sources of authority in the

This great work when completed will be of that kind of which no other
European nation can supply an example. Every public library in the world
will find it necessary to procure a copy. The chronicles will then
cease to be so closely and exclusively studied. Every history of ancient
Ireland will consist of more or less intelligent comments upon and
theories formed in connection with this great series--theories which, in
general, will only be formed in order to be destroyed. What the present
age demands upon the subject of antique Irish history--an exact
and scientific treatment of the facts supplied by our native
authorities--will be demanded for ever. It will never be supplied. The
history of Ireland will be contained in this huge publication. In it the
poet will find endless themes of song, the philosopher strange workings
of the human mind, the archeologist a mass of information, marvellous in
amount and quality, with regard to primitive ideas and habits of life,
and the rationalist materials for framing a scientific history of
Ireland, which will be acceptable in proportion to the readableness
of his style, and the mode in which his views may harmonize with the
prevailing humour and complexion of his contemporaries.

Such a work it is evident could not be effected by a single individual.
It must be a public and national undertaking, carried out under the
supervision of the Royal Irish Academy, at the expense of the country.

The publication of the Irish bardic remains in the way that I have
mentioned, is the only true and valuable method of presenting the
history of Ireland to the notice of the world. The mode which I have
myself adopted, that other being out of the question, is open to many
obvious objections; but in the existing state of the Irish mind on the
subject, no other is possible to an individual writer. I desire to
make this heroic period once again a portion of the imagination of the
country, and its chief characters as familiar in the minds of our people
as they once were. As mere history, and treated in the method in which
history is generally written at the present day, a work dealing with
the early Irish kings and heroes would certainly not secure an audience.
Those who demand such a treatment forget that there is not in the
country an interest on the subject to which to appeal. A work treating
of early Irish kings, in the same way in which the historians of
neighbouring countries treat of their own early kings, would be, to the
Irish public generally, unreadable. It might enjoy the reputation
of being well written, and as such receive an honourable place in
half-a-dozen public libraries, but it would be otherwise left severely
alone. It would never make its way through that frozen zone which, on
this subject, surrounds the Irish mind.

On the other hand, Irishmen are as ready as others to feel an interest
in a human character, having themselves the ordinary instincts,
passions, and curiosities of human nature. If I can awake an interest
in the career of even a single ancient Irish king, I shall establish a
train of thoughts, which will advance easily from thence to the state
of society in which he lived, and the kings and heroes who surrounded,
preceded, or followed him. Attention and interest once fully aroused,
concerning even one feature of this landscape of ancient history, could
be easily widened and extended in its scope.

Now, if nothing remained of early Irish history save the dry _fasti_ of
the chronicles and the Brehon laws, this would, I think, be a perfectly
legitimate object of ambition, and would be consonant with my ideal
of what the perfect flower of historical literature should be, to
illuminate a tale embodying the former by hues derived from the Senchus

But in Irish literature there has been preserved, along with the _fasti_
and the laws, this immense mass of ancient ballad, tale, and epic, whose
origin is lost in the mists of extreme antiquity, and in which have been
preserved the characters, relationships, adventures, and achievements of
the vast majority of the personages whose names, in a gaunt nakedness,
fill the books of the chroniclers. Around each of the greater heroes
there groups itself a mass of bardic literature, varying in tone
and statement, but preserving a substantial unity as to the general
character and the more important achievements of the hero, and also,
a fact upon which their general historical accuracy may be based with
confidence, exhibiting a knowledge of that same prior and subsequent
history recorded in the _fasti_. The literature which groups
itself around a hero exhibits not only an unity with itself, but an
acquaintance with the general course of the history of the country, and
with preceding and succeeding kings.

The students of Irish literature do not require to be told this; for
those who are not, I would give a single instance as an illustration.

In the battle of Gabra, fought in the third century, and in which Oscar,
perhaps the greatest of all the Irish heroes heading the Fianna Eireen,
contended against Cairbry of the Liffey, King of Ireland, and his
troops, Cairbry on his side announces to his warriors that he would
rather perish in this battle than suffer one of the Fianna to survive;
but while he spoke--

             "Barran suddenly exclaimed--
             'Remember Mall Mucreema, remember Art.

            "'Our ancestors fell there
              By force of the treachery of the Fians;
              Remember the hard tributes,
              Remember the extraordinary pride.'"

Here the poet, singing only of the events of the battle of Gabra, shows
that he was well-acquainted with all the relations subsisting for a long
time between the Fians and the Royal family. The battle of Mucreema
was fought by Cairbry's grandfather, Art, against Lewy Mac Conn and the
Fianna Eireen.

Again, in the tale of the battle of Moy Leana, in which Conn of
the Hundred Battles, the father of this same Art, is the principal
character, the author of the tale mentions many times circumstances
relating to his father, Felimy Rectmar, and his grandfather, Tuhall
Tectmar. Such is the whole of the Irish literature, not vague, nebulous,
and shifting, but following the course of the _fasti_, and regulated and
determined by them. This argument has been used by Mr. Gladstone
with great confidence, in order to show the substantial historical
truthfulness of the Iliad, and that it is in fact a portion of a
continuous historic sequence.

Now this being admitted, that the course of Irish history, as laid down
by the chroniclers, was familiar to the authors of the tales and heroic
ballads, one of two things must be admitted, either that the events and
kings did succeed one another in the order mentioned by the chroniclers,
or that what the chroniclers laid down was then taken as the theme of
song by the bards, and illuminated and adorned according to their wont.

The second of these suppositions is one which I think few will adopt.
Can we believe it possible that the bards, who actually supported
themselves by the amount of pleasure which they gave their audiences,
would have forsaken those subjects which were already popular, and those
kings and heroes whose splendour and achievements must have affected,
profoundly, the popular imagination, in order to invent stories to
illuminate fabricated names. The thing is quite impossible. A practice
which we can trace to the edge of that period whose historical character
may be proved to demonstration, we may conclude to have extended on
into the period immediately preceding that. When bards illuminated with
stories and marvellous circumstances the battle of Clontarf and the
battle of Moyrath, we may believe their predecessors to have done the
same for the earlier centuries. The absence of an imaginative literature
other than historical shows also that the literature must have followed,
regularly, the course of the history, and was not an archaeological
attempt to create an interest in names and events which were found
in the chronicles. It is, therefore, a reasonable conclusion that the
bardic literature, where it reveals a clear sequence in the order of
events, and where there is no antecedent improbability, supplies a
trustworthy guide to the general course of our history.

So far as the clear light of history reaches, so far may these tales be
proved to be historical. It is, therefore, reasonable to suppose that
the same consonance between them and the actual course of events which
subsisted during the period which lies in clear light, marked also that
other preceding period of which the light is no longer dry.

The earliest manuscript of these tales is the Leabhar [Note: Leabar na
Heera.] na Huidhré, a work of the eleventh century, so that we may
feel sure that we have them in a condition unimpaired by the revival of
learning, or any archaeological restoration or improvement. Now, of some
of these there have been preserved copies in other later MSS., which
differ very little from the copies preserved in the Leabhar na Huidhré,
from which we may conclude that these tales had arrived at a fixed
state, and a point at which it was considered wrong to interfere with
the text.

The feast of Bricrind is one of the tales preserved in this manuscript.
The author of the tale in its present form, whenever he lived, composed
it, having before him original books which he collated, using his
judgment at times upon the materials to his hand. At one stage he
observes that the books are at variance on a certain point, namely, that
at which Cuculain, Conal the Victorious, and Laery Buada go to the lake
of Uath in order to be judged by him. Some of the books, according
to the author, stated that on this occasion the two latter behaved
unfairly, but he agreed with those books which did not state this.

We have, therefore, a tale penned in the eleventh century, composed at
some time prior to this, and itself collected, not from oral tradition,
but from books. These considerations would, therefore, render it
extremely probable that the tales of the Ultonian period, with which the
Leabhar na Huidhré is principally concerned, were committed to writing
at a very early period.

To strengthen still further the general historic credibility of these
tales, and to show how close to the events and heroes described must
have been the bards who originally composed them, I would urge the
following considerations.

With the advent of Christianity the mound-raising period passed away.
The Irish heroic tales have their source in, and draw their interest
from, the mounds and those laid in them. It would, therefore, be
extremely improbable that the bards of the Christian period, when the
days of rath and cairn had departed, would modify, to any considerable
extent, the literature produced in conditions of society which had
passed away.

Again, with the advent of Christianity, and the hold which the new faith
took upon the finest and boldest minds in the country, it is plain that
the golden age of bardic composition ended. The loss to the bards was
direct, by the withdrawal of so much intellect from their ranks, and
indirect, by the general substitution of other ideas for those whose
ministers they themselves were. It is, therefore, probable that the age
of production and creation, with regard to the ethnic history, ceased
about the fifth and sixth centuries, and that, about that time, men
began to gather up into a collected form the floating literature
connected with the pagan period. The general current of mediaeval
opinion attributes the collection of tales and ballads now known as the
Tân-Bo-Cooalney to St. Ciaran, the great founder of the monastery of

But if this be the case, we are enabled to take another step in the
history of this most valuable literature. The tales of the Leabhar na
Huidhré are in prose, but prose whose source and original is poetry. The
author, from time to time, as if quoting an authority, breaks out with
verse; and I think there is no Irish tale in existence without these
rudimentary traces of a prior metrical cycle. The style and language
are quite different, and indicate two distinct epochs. The prose tale is
founded upon a metrical original, and composed in the meretricious style
then in fashion, while the old metrical excerpts are pure and simple.
This is sufficient, in a country like Ireland in those primitive times,
to necessitate a considerable step into the past, if we desire to get at
the originals upon which the prose tales were founded.

For in ancient Ireland the conservatism of the people was very great. It
is the case in all primitive societies. Individual, initiative,
personal enterprise are content to work within a very small sphere. In
agriculture, laws, customs, and modes of literary composition, primitive
and simple societies are very adverse to change.

When we see how closely the Christian compilers followed the early
authorities, we can well believe that in the ethnic times no mind would
have been sufficiently daring or sacrilegious to alter or pervert those
epics which were in their eyes at the same time true and sacred.

In the perusal of the Irish literature, we see that the strength of
this conservative instinct has been of the greatest service in the
preservation of the early monuments in their purity. So much is this the
case, that in many tales the most flagrant contradictions appear, the
author or scribe being unwilling to depart at all from that which he
found handed down. For instance, in the "Great Breach of Murthemney,"
we find Laeg at one moment killed, and in the next riding black
Shanglan off the field. From this conservatism and careful following of
authority, and the _littera scripta_, or word once spoken, I conclude
that the distance in time between the prose tale and the metrical
originals was very great, and, unless under such exceptional
circumstances as the revolution caused by the introduction of
Christianity, could not have been brought about within hundreds of
years. Moreover, this same conservatism would have caused the tales
concerning heroes to grow very slowly once they were actually formed.
All the noteworthy events of the hero's life and his characteristics
must have formed the original of the tales concerning him, which would
have been composed during his life, or not long after his death.

I have not met a single tale, whether in verse or prose, in which it is
not clearly seen that the author was not following authorities before
him. Such traces of invention or decoration as may be met with are not
suffered to interfere with the conduct of the tale and the statement of
facts. They fill empty niches and adorn vacant places. For instance,
if a king is represented as crossing the sea, we find that the causes
leading to this, the place whence he set out, his companions, &c., are
derived from the authorities, but the bard, at the same time, permits
himself to give what seems to him to be an eloquent or beautiful
description of the sea, and the appearance presented by the many-oared
galleys. And yet the last transcription or recension of the majority of
the tales was effected in Christian times, and in an age characterised
by considerable classical attainments--a time when the imagination might
have been expected to shake itself loose from old restraints, and freely
invent. _A fortiori_, the more ancient bards, those of the ruder ethnic
times, would have clung still closer to authority, deriving all their
imaginative representations from preceding minstrels. There was no
conscious invention at any time. Each cycle and tale grew from historic
roots, and was developed from actual fact. So much may indeed be said
for the more ancient tales, but the Ultonian cycle deals with events
well within the historic period.

The era of Concobar Mac Nessa and the Red Branch knights of Ulster was
long subsequent to the floruerunt of the Irish gods and their Titan-like
opponents of this latter period, the names alone can be fairly held to
be historic. What swells out the Irish chronicles to such portentous
dimensions is the history of the gods and giants rationalised by
mediaeval historians. Unable to ignore or excide what filled so much of
the imagination of the country, and unable, as Christians, to believe
in the divinity of the Tuátha De Danan and their predecessors, they
rationalised all the pre-Milesian record. But the disappearance of the
gods does not yet bring us within the penumbra of history. After the
death of the sons of Milesius we find a long roll of kings. These were
all topical heroes, founders of nations, and believed, by the tribes and
tribal confederacies which they founded, to have been in their day
the chief kings of Ireland. The point fixed upon by the accurate and
sceptical Tiherna as the starting-point of trustworthy Irish history,
was one long subsequent to the floruerunt of the gods; and the age of
Concobar Mac Nessa and his knights was more than two centuries later
than that of Kimbay and the foundation of Emain Macha. The floruit of
Cuculain, therefore, falls completely within the historical penumbra,
and the more carefully the enormous, and in the main mutually consistent
and self-supporting, historical remains dealing with this period are
studied, the more will this be believed. The minuteness, accuracy,
extent, and verisimilitude of the literature, chronicles, pedigrees,
&c., relating to this period, will cause the student to wonder more and
more as he examines and collates, seeing the marvellous self-consistency
and consentaneity of such a mass of varied recorded matter. The age,
indeed, breathes sublimity, and abounds with the marvellous, the
romantic, and the grotesque. But as I have already stated, the presence
or absence of these qualities has no crucial significance. Love and
reverence and the poetic imagination always effect such changes in
the object of their passion. They are the essential condition of the
transference of the real into the world of art. AEval, of Carriglea, the
fairy queen of Munster, is one of the most important characters in the
history of the battle of Clontarf, the character of which, and of the
events that preceded and followed its occurrence, and the chieftains and
warriors who fought on one side and the other, are identical, whether
described by the bard singing, or by the monkish chronicler jotting down
in plain prose the fasti for the year. The reader of these volumes can
make such deductions as he pleases, on this account, from the bardic
history of the Red Branch, and clip the wings of the tale, so that it
may with him travel pedestrian. I know there are others, like myself,
who will not hesitate for once to let the fancy roam and luxuriate in
the larger spaces and freer airs of ancient song, nor fear that their
sanity will be imperilled by the shouting of semi-divine heroes, and the
sight of Cuculain entering battles with the Tuátha De Danan around him.

I hope on some future occasion to examine more minutely the character
and place in literature of the Irish bardic remains, and put forward
here these general considerations, from which the reader may presume
that the Ultonian cycle, dealing as it does with Cuculain and his
contemporaries, is in the main true to the facts of the time, and that
his history, and that of the other heroes who figure in these volumes,
is, on the whole, and omitting the marvellous, sufficiently reliable.
I would ask the reader, who may be inclined to think that the principal
character is too chivalrous and refined for the age, to peruse for
himself the tale named the "Great Breach of Murthemney." He will there,
and in many other tales and poems besides, see that the noble and
pathetic interest which attaches to his character is substantially the
same as I have represented in these volumes. But unless the student
has read the whole of the Ultonian cycle, he should be cautious in
condemning a departure in my work from any particular version of an
event which he may have himself met. Of many minor events there are more
than one version, and many scenes and assertions which he may think
of importance would yet, by being related, cause inconsistency and
contradiction. Of the nature of the work in which all should be
introduced I have already given my opinion.

For the rest, I have related one or two great events in the life of
Cuculain in such a way as to give a description as clear and correct as
possible of his own character and history as related by the bards, of
those celebrated men and women who were his contemporaries and of his
relations with them, of the gods and supernatural powers in whom the
people then believed, and of the state of civilisation which then
prevailed. If I have done my task well, the reader will have been
supplied, without any intensity of application on his part--a condition
of the public mind upon which no historian of this country should
count--with some knowledge of ancient Irish history, and with an
interest in the subject which may lead him to peruse for himself that
ancient literature, and to read works of a more strictly scientific
nature upon the subject than those which I have yet written. But until
such an interest is aroused, it is useless to swell the mass of valuable
critical matter, which everyone at present is very well content to leave

In the first volume, however, I have committed this error, that I did
not permit it to be seen with sufficient clearness that the characters
and chief events of the tale are absolutely historic; and that much
of the colouring, inasmuch as its source must have been the centuries
immediately succeeding the floruerunt of those characters, is also
reliable as history, while the remainder is true to the times and the
state of society which then obtained. The story seems to progress too
much in the air, too little in time and space, and seems to be more
of the nature of legend and romance than of actual historic fact seen
through an imaginative medium. Such is the history of Concobar Mac Nessa
and his knights--historic fact seen through the eyes of a loving wonder.

Indeed, I must confess that the blaze of bardic light which illuminates
those centuries at first so dazzled the eye and disturbed the judgment,
that I saw only the literature, only the epic and dramatic interest, and
did not see as I should the distinctly historical character of the age
around which that literature revolves, wrongly deeming that a literature
so noble, and dealing with events so remote, must have originated
mainly or altogether in the imagination. All the borders of the epic
representation at which, in the first volume, I have aimed, seem to
melt, and wander away vaguely on every side into space and time. I have
now taken care to remedy that defect, supplying to the unset picture the
clear historical frame to which it is entitled. I will also request the
reader, when the two volumes may diverge in tone or statement, to
attach greater importance to the second, as the result of wider and more
careful reading and more matured reflection.

A great English poet, himself a severe student, pronounced the early
history of his own country to be a mere scuffling of kites and crows, as
indeed are all wars which lack the sacred bard, and the sacred bard is
absent where the kites and crows pick out his eyes. That the Irish kings
and heroes should succeed one another, surrounded by a blaze of bardic
light, in which both themselves and all those who were contemporaneous
with them are seen clearly and distinctly, was natural in a country
where in each little realm or sub-kingdom the ard-ollav was equal in
dignity to the king, which is proved by the equivalence of their cries.
The dawn of English history is in the seventh century--a late dawn, dark
and sombre, without a ray of cheerful sunshine; that of Ireland dates
reliably from a point before the commencement of the Christian era
luminous with that light which never was on sea or land--thronged
with heroic forms of men and women--terrible with the presence of the
supernatural and its over-arching power.

Educated Irishmen are ignorant of, and indifferent to, their history;
yet from the hold of that history they cannot shake themselves free. It
still haunts the imagination, like Mordecai at Haman's gate, a cause
of continual annoyance and vexation. An Irishman can no more release
himself from his history than he can absolve himself from social and
domestic duties. He may outrage it, but he cannot placidly ignore.
Hence the uneasy, impatient feeling with which the subject is generally

I think that I do not exaggerate when I say that the majority of
educated Irishmen would feel grateful to the man who informed them that
the history of their country was valueless and unworthy of study, that
the pre-Christian history was a myth, the post-Christian mere annals,
the mediaeval a scuffling of kites and crows, and the modern alone
deserving of some slight consideration. That writer will be in Ireland
most praised who sets latest the commencement of our history. Without
study he will be pronounced sober and rational before the critic opens
the book. So anxious is the Irish mind to see that effaced which it is
conscious of having neglected.

There are two compositions which affect an interest comparable to that
which Ireland claims for her bardic literature, One is the Ossian of
MacPherson, the other the Nibelungen Lied.

If we are to suppose Macpherson faithfully to have written down,
printed, and published the floating disconnected poems which he found
lingering in the Scotch highlands, how small, comparatively, would be
their value as indications of antique thought and feeling, reduced then
for the first time to writing, sixteen hundred years after the time of
Ossian and his heroes, in a country not the home of those heroes, and
destitute of the regular bardic organisation. The Ossianic tales and
poems still told and sung by the Irish peasantry at the present day in
the country of Ossian and Oscar, would be, if collected even now, quite
as valuable, if not more so. Truer to the antique these latter are,
for in them the cycles are not blended. The Red Branch heroes are not
confused with Ossian's Fianna.

But MacPherson's Ossian is not a translation. In the publications of the
Irish Ossianic poetry we see what that poetry really was--rude, homely,
plain-spoken, leagues removed from the nebulous sublimity of MacPherson.

With regard to the other, the Germans, who naturally desire to refer
its composition to as remote a date as possible, and who arguing from
no scientific data, but only style, ascribe the authorship of the
Nibelungen to a poet living in the latter part of the twelfth century.
Be it remembered, that the poem does not purport to be a collection of
the scattered fragments of a cycle, but an original composition, then
actually imagined and written. It does not even purport to deal with the
ethnic times. _Its heroes are Christian heroes. They attend Mass._ The
poem is not true, even to the leading features of the late period of
history in which it is placed, if it have any habitat in the world of
history at all. Attila, who died A.D. 450, and Theodoric, who did not
die until the succeeding century, meet as coevals.

Turn we now from the sole boast of Germany to one out of a hundred in
the Irish bardic literature. The Tân-bo-Cooalney was transcribed into
the Leabhar na Huidhré in the eleventh century a manuscript whose date
has been established by the consentaneity of Irish, French, and German
scholarship. Mark, it was transcribed, not composed. The scribe records
the fact:--

  "Ego qui scripsi hanc historian aut vero fabulam, quibusdam fidem
  in hac historiâ aut fabulâ non commodo."

The Tân-bo-Cooalney was therefore _transcribed_ by an ancient penman to
the parchment of a still existing manuscript, in the century before
that in which the German epic is presumed, from style only, and in the
opinion of Germans, to have been _composed_.

The same scribe adds this comment with regard to its contents:--

  "Qaedam autem poetica figmenta, quaedam ad delectationem

Such scorn could not have been felt by one living in an age of bardic
production. That independence and originality of thought, which caused
Milton to despise the poets of the Restoration, are impossible in
the simple stages of civilisation. The scribe who appended this very
interesting comment to the subject of his own handiwork must have been
removed by centuries from the date of its compilation. That the tale
was, in his time, an ancient one, is therefore rendered extremely
probable, the scribe himself indicating how completely out of sympathy
he is with this form of literature, its antiquity and peculiar
archaeological interest being, doubtless, the cause of the

Again, a close study of its contents, as of the contents of all the
Irish historic tales, proves that in its present form, whenever
that form was superadded, it is but a representation in prose of a
pre-existing metrical original. Under this head I have already made some
remarks, which, I shall request the reader to re-peruse [Note: Pages 23
to 27]

Once more, it deals with a particular event in Irish history, and with
distinct and definite kings, heroes, and bards, who flourished in
the epoch of which it treats. In the synchronisms of Tiherna, in the
metrical chronology of Flann, in all the various historical compositions
produced in various parts of the country, the main features and leading
characters of the Tân-bo-Cooalney suffer no material change, while the
minor divergencies show that the chronology of the annals and annalistic
poems were not drawn from the tale, but owe their origin to other
sources. Moreover, this epic is but a portion of the great Ultonian or
Red Branch cycle, all the parts of which pre-suppose and support one
another; and that cycle is itself a portion of the history of Ireland,
and pre-supposes other preceding and succeeding cyles, preceding and
succeeding kings. The event of which this epic treats occurred at the
time of the Incarnation, and its characters are the leading Irish kings
and warriors of that date. Such is the Tân-bo-Cooalney.

This being so, how have the English literary classes recognised, or
how treated, our claim to the possession of an antique literature of
peculiar historical interest, and by reason of that antiquity, a matter
of concern to all Aryan nations? The conquest has not more constituted
the English Parliament guardian and trustee of Ireland, for purposes of
legislation and government, than it has vested the welfare and fame
of our literature and antiquities in the hands of English scholarship.
London is the headquarters of the intellectualism and of the literary
and historical culture of the Empire. It is the sole dispenser of fame.
It alone influences the mind of the country and guides thought and
sentiment. It can make and mar reputations. What it scorns or ignores,
the world, too, ignores and scorns. How then has the native literature
of Ireland been treated by the representatives of English scholarship
and literary culture? Mr. Carlyle is the first man of letters of the
day, his the highest name as a critic upon, and historian of, the
past life of Europe. Let us hear him upon this subject, admittedly of
European importance.

Miscellaneous Essays, Vol. III., page 136. "Not only as the oldest
Tradition of Modern Europe does it--the Nibelungen--possess a high
antiquarian interest, but farther, and even in the shape we now see
it under, unless the epics of the son of Fingal had some sort of
authenticity, it is our oldest poem also."

Poor Ireland, with her hundred ancient epics, standing at the door of
the temple of fame, or, indeed, quite behind the vestibule out of the
way! To see the Swabian enter in, crowned, to a flourish of somewhat
barbarous music, was indeed bad enough, but Mr. MacPherson!

They manage these things rather better in France, _vide passim_ "La
Révue Celtique."

Of the literary value of the bardic literature I fear to write at all,
lest I should not know how to make an end. Rude indeed it is, but
great. Like the central chamber of that huge tumulus [Note: New Grange
anciently Cnobgha, and now also Knowth.] on the Boyne, overarched with
massive unhewn rocks, its very ruggedness strikes an awe which the
orderly arrangement of smaller and more reasonable thoughts, cut smooth
by instruments inherited from classic times, fails so often to inspire.
The labour of the Attic chisel may be seen since its invention in every
other literary workshop of Europe, and seen in every other laboratory of
thought the transmitted divine fire of the Hebrew. The bardic literature
of Erin stands alone, as distinctively and genuinely Irish as the race
itself, or the natural aspects of the island. Rude indeed it is, but
like the hills which its authors tenanted with gods, holding dells
[Note: Those sacred hills will generally be found to have this
character.] of the most perfect beauty, springs of the most touching
pathos. On page 33, Vol. I., will be seen a poem [Note: Publications
of Ossianic Society, page 303, Vol. IV.] by Fionn upon the spring-time,
made, as the old unknown historian says, to prove his poetic powers--a
poem whose antique language relegates it to a period long prior to the
tales of the Leabhar na Huidhré, one which, if we were to meet side
by side with the "Ode to Night," by Alcman, in the Greek anthology, we
would not be surprised; or those lines on page 203, Vol. I., the song of
Cuculain, forsaken by his people, watching the frontier of his country--

      "Alone in defence of the Ultonians,
       Solitary keeping ward over the province"

or the death [Note: Publications of Ossianic Society, Vol. I.] of Oscar,
on pages 34 and 35, Vol. I., an excerpt condensed from the Battle of
Gabra. Innumerable such tender and thrilling passages.

To all great nations their history presents itself under the aspect
of poetry; a drama exciting pity and terror; an epic with unbroken
continuity, and a wide range of thought, when the intellect is satisfied
with coherence and unity, and the imagination by extent and diversity.
Such is the bardic history of Ireland, but with this literary defect. A
perfect epic is only possible when the critical spirit begins to be
in the ascendant, for with the critical spirit comes that distrust and
apathy towards the spontaneous literature of early times, which permit
some great poet so to shape and alter the old materials as to construct
a harmonious and internally consistent tale, observing throughout a
sense of proportion and a due relation of the parts. Such a clipping
and alteration of the authorities would have seemed sacrilege to earlier
bards. In mediaeval Ireland there was, indeed, a subtle spirit of
criticism; but under its influence, being as it was of scholastic
origin, no great singing men appeared, re-fashioning the old rude epics;
and yet, the very shortcomings of the Irish tales, from a literary point
of view, increase their importance from a historical. Of poetry, as
distinguised from metrical composition, these ancient bards knew little.
The bardic literature, profoundly poetic though it be, in the eyes of
our ancestors was history, and never was anything else. As history it
was originally composed, and as history bound in the chains of metre,
that it might not be lost or dissipated passing through the minds
of men, and as history it was translated into prose and committed
to parchment. Accordingly, no tale is without its defects as poetry,
possessing therefore necessarily, a corresponding value as history.
But that there was in the country, in very early times, a high and rare
poetic culture of the lyric kind, native in its character, ethnic in
origin, unaffected by scholastic culture which, as we know, took a
different direction; that one exquisite poem, in which the father
of Ossian praises the beauty of the springtime in anapaestic [Note:
Cettemain | cain ree! | ro sair | an cuct | "He, Fionn MacCool, learned
the three compositions which distinguish the poets, the TEINM LAEGHA,
the IMUS OF OSNA, and the DICEDUE DICCENAIB, and it was then Fionn
composed this poem to prove his poetry." In which of these three forms
of metre the Ode to the spring-time is written I know not. Its form
throughout is distinctly anapaestic.--S. O'G.] verse, would, even though
it stood alone, both by the fact of its composition and the fact of its
preservation, fully prove.

Much and careful study, indeed, it requires, if we would compel these
ancient epics to yield up their greatness or their beauty, or even their
logical coherence and imaginative unity--broken, scattered portions as
they all are of that one enormous epic, the bardic history of Ireland.
At the best we read without the key. The magic of the names is gone,
or can only be partially recovered by the most tender and sympathetic
study. Indeed, without reading all or many, we will not understand
the superficial meaning of even one. For instance, in one of the many
histories of Cuculain's many battles, we read this--

"It was said that Lu Mac AEthleen was assisting him."

This at first seems meaningless, the bard seeing no necessity for
throwing further light on the subject; but, as we wander through the
bardic literature, gradually the conception of this Lu grows upon the
mind--the destroyer of the sons of Turann--the implacably filial--the
expulsor of the Fomoroh--the source of all the sciences--the god of the
Tuátha De Danan--the protector and guardian of Cuculain--Lu Lamfáda,
son of Cian, son of Diancéct, son of Esric, son of Dela, son of Ned the
war-god, whose tomb or temple, Aula Neid, may still be seen beside the
Foyle. This enormous and seemingly chaotic mass of literature is found
at all times to possess an inner harmony, a consistency and logical
unity, to be apprehended only by careful study.

So read, the sublimity strikes through the rude representation.
Astonished at himself, the student, who at first thinks that he has
chanced upon a crowd of barbarians, ere long finds himself in the august
presence of demi-gods and heroes.

A noble moral tone pervades the whole. Courage, affection, and truth are
native to all who live in this world. Under the dramatic image of
Ossian wrangling with the Talkend, [Note: St. Patrick, on account of
the tonsured crown.] the bards, themselves vainly fighting against the
Christian life, a hundred times repeat through the lips of Ossian like a

      "We, the Fianna of Erin, never uttered falsehood,
       Lying was never attributed to us;
       By courage and the strength of our hands
       We used to come out of every difficulty."

Again: Fergus, the bard, inciting Oscar to his last battle--in that poem
called the Rosc Catha of Oscar:--

      "Place thy hand on thy gentle forehead
       Oscar, who never lied."
[Note: Publications of Ossianic Society, p. 159; vol. i.]

And again, elsewhere in the Ossianic poetry:--

      "Oscar, who never wronged bard or woman."

Strange to say, too, they inculcated chastity (see p. 257; vol. i.), an
allusion taken from the "youthful adventures of Cuculain," Leabhar na

The following ancient rann contains the four qualifications of a bard:--

      "Purity of hand, bright, without wounding,
       Purity of mouth, without poisonous satire,
       Purity of learning, without reproach,
       Purity, as a husband, in wedlock."

Moreover, through all this literature sounds a high clear note of
chivalry, in this contrasting favourably with the Iliad, where no man
foregoes an advantage. Cuculain having slain the sons of Neara, "thought
it unworthy of him to take possession of their chariot and horses."
[Note: P. 155; vol. i.] Goll Mac Morna, in the Fenian or Ossianic cycle,
declares to Conn Cedcathah [Note: Conn of the hundred battles.] that
from his youth up he never attacked an enemy by night or under any
disadvantage, and many times we read of heroes preferring to die rather
than outrage their geisa. [Note: Certain vows taken with their arms on
being knighted.]

A noble literature indeed it is, having too this strange interest,
that though mainly characterised by a great plainness and simplicity of
thought, and, in the earlier stages, of expression, we feel, oftentimes,
a sudden weirdness, a strange glamour shoots across the poem when the
tale seems to open for a moment into mysterious depths, druidic secrets
veiled by time, unsunned caves of thought, indicating a still deeper
range of feeling, a still lower and wider reach of imagination. A youth
came once to the Fianna Eireen encamped at Locha Lein [Note: The Lakes
of Killarney.], leading a hound dazzling white, like snow. It was the
same, the bard simply states, that was once a yew tree, flourishing
fifty summers in the woods of Ioroway. Elsewhere, he is said to have
been more terrible than the sun upon his flaming wheels. What meant this
yew tree and the hound? Stray allusions I have met, but no history.
The spirit of Coelté, visiting one far removed in time from the great
captain of the Fianna, with a different name and different history,

      "I was with thee, with Finn"--

giving no explanation.

To MacPherson, however, I will do this justice, that he had the merit
to perceive, even in the debased and floating ballads of the highlands,
traces of some past greatness and sublimity of thought, and to
understand, he, for the first time, how much more they meant than what
met the ear. But he saw, too, that the historical origin of the ballads,
and the position in time and place of the heroes whom they praised, had
been lost in that colony removed since the time of St. Columba from its
old connection with the mother country. Thus released from the curb of
history, he gave free rein to the imagination, and in the conventional
literary language of sublimity, gave full expression to the feelings
that arose within him, as to him, pondering over those ballads, their
gigantesque element developed into a greatness and solemnity, and their
vagueness and indeterminateness into that misty immensity and weird
obscurity which, as constituent factors in a poem, not as back-ground,
form one of the elements of the false sublime. Either not seeing the
literary necessity of definiteness, or having no such abundant and
ordered literature as we possess, upon which to draw for details,
and being too conscientious to invent facts, however he might invent
language, he published his epics of Ossian--false indeed to the
original, but true to himself, and to the feelings excited by meditation
upon them. This done, he had not sufficient courage to publish also
the rude, homely, and often vulgar ballads--a step which, in that hard
critical age, would have been to expose himself and his country to swift
contempt. The thought of the great lexicographer riding rough-shod
over the poor mountain songs which he loved, and the fame which he had
already acquired, deterred and dissuaded him, if he had ever any such
intention, until the opportunity was past.

MacPherson feared English public opinion, and fearing lied. He declared
that to be a translation which was original work, thus relegating
himself for ever to a dubious renown, and depriving his country of
the honest fame of having preserved through centuries, by mere oral
transmission, a portion, at least, of the antique Irish literature. To
the magnanimity of his own heroes he could not attain:--

      "Oscar, Oscar, who feared not armies--
       Oscar, who never lied."

Of some such error as MacPherson's I have myself, with less excuse, been
guilty, in chapters xi. and xii., Vol. I., where I attempt to give
some conception of the character of the Ossianic cycle. The age and the
heroes around whom that cycle revolves have, in the history of Ireland,
a definite position in time; their battles, characters, several
achievements, relationships, and pedigrees; their Dûns, and
trysting-places, and tombs; their wives, musicians, and bards; their
tributes, and sufferings, and triumphs; their internecine and other
wars--are all fully and clearly described in the Ossianic cycle. They
still remain demanding adequate treatment, when we arrive at the age of
Conn [Note: See page 20.], Art, and Cormac, kings of Tara in the second
and third centuries of the Christian era. All have been forgotten for
the sake of a vague representation of the more sublime aspects of the
cycle, and the meretricious seductions of a form of composition easy to
write and easy to read, and to which the unwary or unwise often award
praise to which it has no claim.

On the other hand, chapter xi. purports only to be a representation of
the feelings excited by this literature, and for every assertion there
is authority in the cycle. Chapter xii., however, is a translation from
the original. Every idea which it contains, except one, has been taken
from different parts of the Ossianic poems, and all together expressthe
graver attitude of the mind of Ossian towards the new faith. That idea,
occurring in a separate paragraph in the middle of the page, though
prevalent as a sentiment throughout all the conversations of Ossian with
St. Patrick, has been, as it stands, taken from a meditation on life by
St. Columbanus, one of the early Irish Saints--a meditation which,
for subtle thought, for musical resigned sadness, tender brooding
reflection, and exquisite Latin, is one of the masterpieces of mediaeval

To the casual reader of the bardic literature the preservation of an
ordered historical sequence, amidst that riotous wealth of imaginative
energy, may appear an impossibility. Can we believe that forestine
luxuriance not to have overgrown all highways, that flood of
superabundant song not have submerged all landmarks? Be the cause what
it may, the fact remains that they did not. The landmarks of history
stand clear and fixed, each in its own place unremoved; and through that
forest-growth the highways of history run on beneath over-arching, not
interfering, boughs. The age of the predominance of Ulster does not
clash with the age of the predominance of Tara; the Temairian kings are
not mixed with the contemporary Fians. The chaos of the Nibelungen is
not found here, nor the confusion of the Scotch ballads blending all the
ages into one.

It is not imaginative strength that produces confusion, but imaginative
weakness. The strong imagination which perceives definitely and realises
vividly will not tolerate that obscurity so dear to all those who
worship the eidola of the cave. Of each of these ages, the primary
impressions were made in the bardic mind during the life-time of the
heroes who gave to the epoch its character; and a strong impression made
in such a mind could not have been easily dissipated or obscured. For it
must be remembered, that the bardic literature of Ireland was committed
to the custody of guardians whose character we ought not to forget. The
bards were not the people, but a class. They were not so much a class
as an organisation and fraternity acknowledging the authority of one
elected chief. They were not loose wanderers, but a power in the State,
having duties and privileges. The ard-ollav ranked next to the king, and
his eric was kingly. Thus there was an educated body of public opinion
entrusted with the preservation of the literature and history of the
country, and capable of repressing the aberrations of individuals.

But the question arises, Did they so repress such perversions of history
as their wandering undisciplined members might commit? Too much, of
course, must not reasonably be expected. It was an age of creative
thought, and such thought is difficult to control; but that one of the
prime objects and prime works of the bards, as an organisation, was to
preserve a record of a certain class of historical facts is certain. The
succession of the kings and of the great princely families was one of
these. The tribal system, with the necessity of affinity as a ground of
citizenship, demanded such a preservation of pedigrees in every family,
and particularly in the kingly houses. One of the chief objects of the
triennial feis of Tara was the revision of such records by the general
assembly of the bards, under the presidency of the Ard-Ollav of Ireland.
In the more ancient times, such records were rhymed and alliterated, and
committed to memory--a practice which, we may believe on the authority
of Caesar, treating of the Gauls, continued long after the introduction
of letters. Even at those local assemblies also, which corresponded to
great central and national feis of Tara, the bards were accustomed to
meet for that purpose. In a poem [Note: O'Curry's Manners and Customs,
Vol. I., page 543.], descriptive of the fair [Note: On the full meaning
of this word "fair," see Chap. xiii., Vol. I.] of Garman, we see this--

      "Feasts with the great feasts of Temair,
       Fairs with the fairs of Emania,
       Annals there are verified."

In the existing literature we see two great divisions. On the one hand
the epical, a realm of the most riotous activity of thought; on the
other, the annalistic and genealogical, bald and bare to the last
degree, a mere skeleton. They represent the two great hemispheres of
the bardic mind, the latter controlling the former. Hence the orderly
sequence of the cyclic literature; hence the strong confining banks
between which the torrent of song rolls down through those centuries in
which the bardic imagination reached its height. The consentaneity
of the annals and the literature furnishes a trustworthy guide to the
general course of history, until its guidance is barred by _a priori_
considerations of a weightier nature, or by the statements of writers,
having sources of information not open to us. For instance, the
stream of Irish history must, for philosophical reasons, be no further
traceable than to that point at which it issues from the enchanted land
of the Tuátha De Danan. At the limit at which the gods appear, men
and history must disappear; while on the other hand, the statement of
Tiherna, that the foundation of Emain Alacha by Kimbay is the first
certain date in Irish history, renders it undesirable to attach more
historical reality of characters, adorning the ages prior to B.C. 299,
than we could to such characters as Romulus in Roman, or Theseus in
Athenian history.

I desire here to record my complete and emphatic dissent from the
opinions advanced by a writer in Hermathena on the subject of the Ogham
inscriptions, and the introduction into this country of the art of
writing. A cypher, i.e., an alphabet derived from a pre-existing
alphabet, the Ogham may or may not have been. I advance no opinion upon
that, but an invention of the Christian time it most assuredly was not.
No sympathetic and careful student of the Irish bardic literature can
possibly come to such a conclusion. The bardic poems relating to
the heroes of the ethnic times are filled with allusions to Ogham
inscriptions on stone, and contain some references to books of timber;
but in my own reading I have not met with a single passage in that
literature alluding to books of parchment and to rounded letters.

If the Ogham was derived from the Roman characters introduced by
Christian missionaries, then these characters would be the more ancient,
and Ogham the more modern; books and Roman characters would be the more
poetical, and inscriptions on stone and timber in the Ogham characters
the more prosaic. The bards relating the lives and deeds of the ancient
heroes, would have ascribed to their times parchment books and the Roman
characters, not stone and wood, and the Ogham.

In these compositions, whenever they were reduced to the form in which
we find them to-day, the ethnic character of the times and the ethnic
character of the heroes are clearly and universally observed. The
ancient, the remote, the archaic clings to this literature. As Homer
does not allude to writing, though all scholars agree that he lived in
a lettered age, so the old bards do not allude to parchment and
Roman characters, though the Irish epics, as distinguished from their
component parts, reached their fixed state and their final development
in times subsequent to the introduction of Christianity.

When and how a knowledge of letters reached this island we know not.
From the analogy of Gaul, we may conclude that they were known for some
time prior to their use by the bards. Caesar tells us that the Gaulish
bards and druids did not employ letters for the preservation of their
lore, but trusted to memory, assisted, doubtless, as in this country, by
the mechanical and musical aid of verse. Whether the Ogham was a native
alphabet or a derivative from another, it was at first employed only to
a limited extent. Its chief use was to preserve the name of buried kings
and heroes in the stone that was set above their tombs. It was, perhaps,
invented, and certainly became fashionable on this account, straight
strokes being more easily cut in stone than rounded or uncial
characters. For the same reason it was generally employed by those who
inscribed timber tablets, which formed the primitive book, ere they
discovered or learned how to use pen, ink, and parchment. The use of
Ogham was partially practised in the Christian period for sepultural
purposes, being venerable and sacred from time. Hence the discovery of
Ogham-inscribed stones in Christian cemeteries. On the other hand,
the fact that the majority of these stones are discovered in raths and
forts, i.e., the tombs of our Pagan ancestors, corroborates the fact
implied in all the bardic literature, that the characters employed in
the ethnic times were Oghamic, and affords another proof of the close
conservative spirit of the bards in their transcription, compilation, or
reformation of the old epics.

The full force of the concurrent authority of the bardic literature to
the above effect can only be felt by one who has read that literature
with care. He will find in all the epics no trace of original invention,
but always a studied and conscientious following of authority. This
being so, he will conclude that the universal ascription of Ogham, and
Ogham only, to the ethnic times, arises solely from the fact that such
was the alphabet then employed.

If letters were unknown in those times, the example of Homer shows how
unlikely the later poets would have been to outrage so violently the
whole spirit of the heroic literature. If rounded letters were then
used, why the universal ascription of the late invented Ogham which,
as we know from the cemeteries and other sources, was unpopular in the
Christian age.

Cryptic, too, it was not. The very passages quoted in Hermathena to
support this opinion, so far from doing so prove actually the reverse.
When Cuculain came down into Meath on his first [Note: Vol. I., page
155.] foray, he found, on the lawn of the Dûn of the sons of Nectan, a
pillar stone with this inscription in Ogham--"Let no one pass without an
offer of a challenge of single combat." The inscription was, of course,
intended for all to read. Should there be any bardic passage in which
Ogham inscriptions are alluded to as if an obscure form of writing, the
natural explanation is, that this kind of writing was passing or had
passed into desuetude at the time that particular passage was composed;
but I have never met with any such. The ancient bard, who, in the
Tân-bo-Cooalney, describes the slaughter of Cailitin and his sons by
Cuculain, states that there was an inscription to that effect, written
in Ogham, upon the stone over their tomb, beginning thus--"Take
notice"--evidently intended for all to read. The tomb, by the way, was a
rath--again showing the ethnic character of the alphabet.

In the Annals of the Four Masters, at the date 1499 B.C., we read these

TUÁTHA DE DANAN," i.e., the gods of the ethnic Irish.

Without pausing to enquire into the reasonableness of the date, it will
suffice now to state that at this point the bardic history of Ireland
cleaves asunder into two great divisions--the mythological or divine on
the one hand, and the historical or heroic-historical on the other.
The first is an enchanted land--the world of the Tuátha De Danan--the
country of the gods. There we see Mananan with his mountain-sundering
sword, the Fray-garta; there Lu Lamfada, the deliverer, pondering over
his mysteries; there Bove Derg and his fatal [Note: Every feast to which
he came ended in blood. He was present at the death of Conairey Mor,
Chap. xxxiii., Vol. I.] swine-herd, Lir and his ill-starred children,
Mac Mánar and his harp shedding death from its stricken wires, Angus Og,
the beautiful, and he who was called the mighty father, Eochaidht [Note:
Ay-o-chee, written Yeoha in Vol. I.] Mac Elathan, a land populous with
those who had partaken of the feast of Goibneen, and whom, therefore,
weapons could not slay, who had eaten [Note: In early Greek literature
the province of history has been already separated from that of poetry.
The ancient bardic lore and primaeval traditions were refined to suit
the new and sensitive poetic taste. No commentator has been able to
explain the nature of ambrosia. In the genuine bardic times, no such
vague euphuism would have been tolerated as that of Homer on this
subject. The nature of Olympian ambrosia would have been told in
language as clear as that in which Homer describes the preparation of
that Pramnian bowl for which Nestor and Machaon waited while Hecamede
was grating over it the goat's milk cheese, or that in which the Irish
bards described the ambrosia of the Tuátha De Danan, which, indeed, was
no more poetic and awe-inspiring than plain bacon prepared by Mananan
from his herd of enchanted pigs, living invisible like himself in the
plains of Tir-na-n-Og, the land of the ever-young. On the other hand,
there is a vagueness about the Feed Fia which would seem to indicate the
growth of a more awe-stricken mood in describing things supernatural.
The Faed Fia of the Greek gods has been refined by Homer into "much
darkness," which, from an artistic point of view, one can hardly help
imagining that Homer nodded as he wrote.] at the the table of Mananan,
and would never grow old, who had invented for themselves the Faed Fia,
and might not be seen of the gross eyes of men; there steeds like Anvarr
crossing the wet sea like a firm plain; there ships whose rudder was the
will, and whose sails and oars the wish, of those they bore [Note: Cf.
The barks of the Phoenicians in the Odyssey.]; there hounds like that
one of Ioroway, and spears like fiery flying serpents. These are the
Tuátha De Danan [Note: A mystery still hangs over this three-formed
name. The full expression, Tuátha De Danan, is that generally employed,
less frequently Tuátha De, and sometimes, but not often, Tuátha. Tuátha
also means people. In mediaeval times the name lost its sublime meaning,
and came to mean merely "fairy," no greater significance, indeed,
attaching to the invisible people of the island after Christianity had
destroyed their godhood.], fairy princes, Tuátha; gods, De; of Dana,
Danan, otherwise Ana and the Moreega, or great queen; mater [Note:
Cormac's Glossary] deorum Hibernensium--"well she used to cherish [Note:
Scholiast noting same Glossary.] the gods." Limitless, this divine
population, dwelling in all the seas and estuaries, river and lakes,
mountains and fairy dells, in that enchanted Erin which was theirs.

But they have not started into existence suddenly, like the gods of
Rome, nor is their genealogy confined to a single generation like those
of Greece. Behind them extends a long line of ancestors, and a history
reaching into the remotest depths of the past. As the Greek gods
dethroned the Titans, so the Irish gods drove out or subjected the
giants of the Fir-bolgs; but in the Irish mythology, we find both gods
and giants descended from other ancient races of deities, called the
Clanna Nemedh and the Fomoroh, and these a branch of a divine cycle; yet
more ancient the race of Partholan, while Partholan himself is not the

The history of the Italian gods is completely lost. For all that the
early Roman literature tells us of their origin, they may have been
either self-created or eternal. Rome was a seedling shaken from some
old perished civilisation. The Romans created their own empire, but they
inherited their gods. They supply no example of an Aryan nation evolving
its own mythology and religion. Regal Rome, as we know from Niebuhr, was
not the root from which our Rome sprang, but an old imperial city, from
whose ashes sprang that Rome we all know so well. The mythology of the
Latin writers came to them full-grown.

The gods of Greece were a creation of the Greek mind, indeed; but of
their ancestry, i.e., of their development from more ancient divine
tribes, we know little. Like Pallas, they all but start into existence
suddenly full-grown. Between the huge physical entities of the Greek
theogonists and the Olympian gods, there intervenes but a single
generation. For this loss of the Grecian mythology, and this
substitution of Nox and Chaos for the remote ancestors of the Olympians,
we have to thank the early Greek philosophers, and the general diffusion
of a rude scientific knowledge, imparting a physical complexion to the
mythological memory of the Greeks.

In the theogony of the ancient inhabitants of this country, we have an
example of a slowly-growing, slowly-changing mythology, such as no other
nation in the world can supply. The ancestry of the Irish gods is not
bounded by a single generation or by twenty. The Tuátha De Danan of the
ancient Irish are the final outcome and last development of a mythology
which we can see advancing step by step, one divine tribe pushing out
another, one family of gods swallowing up another, or perishing under
the hands of time and change, to make room for another. From Angus
Og, the god of youth and love and beauty, whose fit home was the woody
slopes of the Boyne, where it winds around Rosnaree, we count fourteen
generations to Nemedh and four to Partholan, and Partholan is not the
earliest. As the bards recorded with a zeal and minuteness, so far as I
can see, without parallel, the histories of the families to which they
were adscript, so also they recorded with equal patience and care the
far-extending pedigrees of those other families--invisible indeed, but
to them more real and more awe-inspiring--who dwelt by the sacred lakes
and rivers, and in the folds of the fairy hills, and the great raths and
cairns reared for them by pious hands.

The extent, diversity, and populousness of the Irish mythological
cycles, the history of the Irish gods, and the gradual growth of that
mythology of which the Tuátha De Danan, i.e., the gods of the historic
period, were the final development, can only be rightly apprehended by
one who reads the bardic literature as it deals with this subject. That
literature, however, so far from having been printed and published, has
not even been translated, but still moulders in the public libraries of
Europe, those who, like myself, are not professed Irish scholars, being
obliged to collect their information piece-meal from quotations and
allusions of those who have written upon the subject in the English or
Latin language. For to read the originals aright needs many years
of labour, the Irish tongue presenting at different epochs the
characteristics of distinct languages, while the peculiarities of
ancient caligraphy, in the defaced and illegible manuscripts, form of
themselves quite a large department of study. Stated succinctly, the
mythological record of the bards, with its chronological decorations,
runs thus:--


2379 B.C. the gods of the KEASAIRIAN cycle, Bith, Lara, and Fintann,
and their wives, KEASAIR, Barran and Balba; their sacred places, Carn
Keshra, Keasair's tomb or temple, on the banks of the Boyle, Ard Laran
on the Wexford Coast, Fert Fintann on the shores of Lough Derg.

About the same time Lot Luaimenich, Lot of the Lower Shannon, an ancient
sylvan deity.


2057 B.C. a new spiritual dynasty, of which PARTHOLAN was father and
king. Though their worship was extended over Ireland, which is shown by
the many different places connected with their history, yet the hill
of Tallaght, ten miles from Dublin, was where they were chiefly adored.
Here to the present day are the mounds and barrows raised in honour of
the deified heroes of this cycle, PARTHOLAN himself, his wife Delgna,
his sons, Rury, Slaney, and Laighlinni, and among others, the father of
Irish hospitality, bearing the expressive name of Beer. Now first appear
the Fomoroh giant princes, under the leadership of curt Kical, son of
Niul, son of Garf, son of U-Mor--a divine cycle intervening between
KEASAIR and PARTHOLAN, but not of sufficient importance to secure a
separate chapter and distinct place in the annals. Battles now between
the Clan Partholan and the Fomoroh, on the plain of Ith, beside the
river Finn, Co. Donegal, so called from Ith [Note: See Vol. I, p. 60],
son of Brogan, the most ancient of the heroes, slain here by the Tuátha
De Danan, but more anciently known by some lost Fomorian name; also at
Iorrus Domnan, now Erris, Co. Mayo, where Kical and his Fomorians first
reached Ireland. These battles are a parable--objective representations
of a fact in the mental history of the ancient Irish--typifying the
invisible war waged between Partholanian and Fomorian deities for the
spiritual sovereignty of the Gael.


1700 B.C. age of the NEMEDIAN divinities, a later branch of the
PARTHOLANIAN _vide post_ NEMEDIAN pedigree. NEMEDH, his wife Maca (first
appearance of Macha, the war goddess, who gave her name to Armagh, i.e.,
Ard Macha, the Height of Macha), Iarbanel; Fergus, the Red-sided, and
Starn, sons of Nemedh; Beothah, son of Iarbanel; Erglann, son of Beoan,
son of Starn; Siméon Brac, son of Starn; Ibath, son of Beothach; Britan
Mael, son of Fergus. This must be remembered, that not one of the
almost countless names that figure in the Irish mythology is of fanciful
origin. They all represent antique heroes and heroines, their names
being preserved in connection with those monuments which were raised for
purposes of sepulture or cult.

Wars now between the Clanna Nemedh and the second cycle of the Fomoroh,
led this time by Faebar and More, sons of Dela, and Coning, son of
Faebar; battles at Ros Freachan, now Rosreahan, barony of Murresk,
Co. Mayo, at Slieve Blahma [Note: Slieve Blahma, now Slieve Bloom, a
mountain range famous in our mythology; one of the peaks, Ard Erin,
sacred to Eiré, a goddess of the Tuátha De Danan, who has given her name
to the island. The sites of all these mythological battles, where they
are not placed in the haunted mountains, will be found to be a place
of raths and cromlechs.] and Murbolg, in Dalaradia (Murbolg, i.e., the
stronghold of the giants,) also at Tor Coning, now Tory Island.


1525 B.C. Age of the FIRBOLGS and third cycle of the Fomorians, once
gods, but expulsed from their sovereignty by the Tuátha De Danan, after
which they loom through the heroic literature as giants of the elder
time, overthrown by the gods. From the FIRBOLGS were descended, or
claimed to have descended, the Connaught warriors who fought with Queen
Meave against Cuculain, also the Clan Humor, appearing in the Second
Volume, also the heroes of Ossian, the Fianna Eireen. Even in the time
of Keating, Irish families traced thither their pedigrees. The great
chiefs of the FIR-BOLGIC dynasty were the five sons of Dela, Gann,
Genann, Sengann, Rury, and Slaney, with their wives Fuad, Edain, Anust,
Cnucha, and Libra; also their last and most potent king, EOCAIDH MAC
ERC, son of Ragnal, son of Genann, whose tomb or temple may be seen
to-day at Ballysadare, Co. Sligo, on the edge of the sea.

The Fomorians of this age were ruled over by Baler Beimenna and his wife
Kethlenn. Their grandson was Lu Lamáda, one of the noblest of the Irish

The last of the mythological cycles is that of the Tuátha De Danan,
whose character, attributes, and history will, I hope, be rendered
interesting and intelligible in my account of Cuculain and the Red
Branch of Ulster.

Irish history has suffered from rationalism almost more than from
neglect and ignorance. The conjectures of the present century are
founded upon mediaeval attempts to reduce to verisimilitude and
historical probability what was by its nature quite incapable of such
treatment. The mythology of the Irish nation, being relieved of the
marvellous and sublime, was set down with circumstantial dates as a
portion of the country's history by the literary men of the middle ages.
Unable to excide from the national narrative those mythological beings
who filled so great a place in the imagination of the times, and unable,
as Christians, to describe them in their true character as gods, or, as
patriots, in the character which they believed them to possess, namely,
demons, they rationalized the whole of the mythological period with
names, dates, and ordered generations, putting men for gods, flesh and
blood for that invisible might, till the page bristled with names and
dates, thus formulating, as annals, what was really the theogony and
mythology of their country. The error of the mediaeval historians is
shared by the not wiser moderns. In the generations of the gods we seem
to see prehistoric racial divisions and large branches of the Aryan
family, an error which results from a neglect of the bardic literature,
and a consequently misdirected study of the annals.

As history, the pre-Milesian record contains but a limited supply of
objective truths; but as theogony, and the history of the Irish gods,
these much abused chronicles are as true as the roll of the kings of

These divine nations, with their many successive generations and
dynasties, constitute a single family; they are all inter-connected and
spring from common sources, and where the literature permits us to see
more clearly, the earlier races exhibit a common character. Like a human
clan, the elements of this divine family grew and died, and shed forth
seedlings which, in time, over-grew and killed the parent stock. Great
names became obscure and passed away, and new ones grew and became
great. Gods, worshipped by the whole nation, declined and became
topical, and minor deities expanding, became national. Gods lost their
immortality, and were remembered as giants of the old time--mighty men,
which were of yore, men of renown.

      "The gods which were of old time rest in their tombs,"

sang the Egyptians, consciously ascribing mortality even to gods.
Such was Mac Ere, King of Fir-bolgs. His temple [Note: Strand near
Ballysadare, Co. Sligo], beside the sea at Iorrus Domnan [Note:
Keating--evidently quoting a bardic historian], became his tomb. Daily
the salt tide embraces the feet of the great tumulus, regal amongst its
smaller comrades, where the last king of Fir-bolgs was worshipped by
his people. "Good [Note: Temple--vide post.] were the years of the
sovereignty of Mac Ere. There was no wet or tempestuous weather
in Ireland, nor was there any unfruitful year." Such were all the
predecessors of the children of Dana--gods which were of old times,
that rest in their tombs; and the days, too, of the Tuátha De Danan were
numbered. They, too, smitten by a more celestial light, vanished from
their hills, like Ossian lamenting over his own heroes; those others
still mightier, might say:--

     "Once every step which we took might be heard throughout the
   firmament. Now, all have gone, they have melted into the air."

But that divine tree, though it had its branches in fairy-land, had
its roots in the soil of Erin. An unceasing translation of heroes
into Tir-na-n-og went on through time, the fairy-world of the bards,
receiving every century new inhabitants, whose humbler human origin
being forgotten, were supplied there with both wives and children. The
apotheosis of great men went forward, tirelessly; the hero of one epoch
becoming the god of the next, until the formation of the Tuátha De
Danan, who represent the gods of the historic ages. Had the advent of
exact genealogy been delayed, and the creative imagination of the bards
suffered to work on for a couple of centuries longer, unchecked by the
historical conscience, Cuculain's human origin would, perhaps, have been
forgotten, and he would have been numbered amongst the Tuátha De Danan,
probably, as the son of Lu Lamfáda and the Moreega, his patron deities.
It was, indeed, a favourite fancy of the bards that not Sualtam, but
Lu Lamfáda himself, was his father; this, however, in a spiritual or
supernatural sense, for his age was far removed from that of the Tuátha
De Danan, and falling well within the scope of the historic period.
Even as late as the time of Alexander, the Greeks could believe a great
contemporary warrior to be of divine origin, and the son of Zeus.

When the Irish bards began to elaborate a general history of their
country, they naturally commenced with the enumeration of the elder
gods. I at one time suspected that the long pedigrees running between
those several divisions of the mythological period were the invention of
mediaeval historians, anxious to spin out the national record, that it
might reach to Shinar and the dispersion. Not only, however, was such
fabrication completely foreign to the genius of the literature, but in
the fragments of those early divine cycles, we see that each of these
personages was at one time the centre of a literature, and holds a
definite place as regards those who went before and came after.
These pedigrees, as I said before, have no historical meaning, being
pre-Milesian, and therefore absolutely prehistoric; but as the genealogy
of the gods, and as representing the successive generations of that
invisible family, whose history not one or ten bards, but the whole
bardic and druidic organisation of the island, delighted to record,
collate, and verify--those pedigrees are as reliable as that of any of
the regal clans. They represent accurately the mythological panorama, as
it unrolled itself slowly through the centuries before the
imagination and spirit of our ancestors accurately that divine
drama, millennium--lasting, with its exits and entrances of gods.
Millennium-lasting, and more so, for it is plain that one divine
generation represents on the average a much greater space of time than
a generation of mortal men. The former probably represents the period
which would elapse before a hero would become so divine, that is, so
consecrated in the imagination of the country, as to be received into
the family of the gods. Cuculain died in the era of the Incarnation,
three hundred years, if not more, before the country even began to be
Christianised, yet he is never spoken of as anything but a great hero,
from which one of two things would follow, either that the apotheosis of
heroes needed the lapse of centuries, or that, during the first,
second, third, and fourth centuries, the historical conscience was so
enlightened, and a positive definite knowledge of the past so universal,
that the translation of heroes into the divine clans could no longer
take place. The latter is indeed the more correct view; but the
reader will, I think, agree with me that the divine generations, taken
generally, represent more than the average space of man's life. To what
remote unimagined distances of time those earlier cycles extend has been
shown by an examination of the tombs of the lower Moy Tura. The ancient
heroes there interred were those who, as Fir-bolgs, preceded the reign
of the Tuáth De Danan, coming long after the Clanna Nemedh in the divine
cycle, who were themselves preceded by the children of Partholan, who
were subsequent to the Queen Keasair. Such then being the position in
the divine cycle of the Fir-bolgs, an examination of the Firbolgic
raths on Moy Tura has revealed only implements of stone, proving
demonstratively that the early divine cycles originated before the
bronze age in Ireland, whenever that commenced. Those heroes who, as
Fir-bolgs, received divine honours, lived in the age of stone. So far is
it from being the case, that the mythological record has been extended
and unduly stretched, to enable the monkish historians to connect the
Irish pedigrees with those of the Mosaic record, that it has, I believe,
been contracted for this purpose.

The reader will be now prepared to peruse with some interest and
understanding one or two of the mythological pedigrees. To these I have
at times appended the dates, as given in the chronicles, to show how the
early historians rationalised the pre-historic record.

Angus Og, the Beautiful, represents the Greek Eros. He was surnamed
Og, or young; Mac-an-Og, or the son of youth; Mac-an-Dagda, son of the
Dagda. He was represented with a harp, and attended by bright birds,
his own transformed kisses, at whose singing love arose in the hearts
of youths and maidens. To him and to his father the great tumulus of New
Grange, upon the Boyne, was sacred.

      "I visited the Royal Brugh that stands
       By the dark-rolling waters of the Boyne,
       Where Angus Og magnificently dwells."

He was the patron god of Diarmid, the Paris of Ossian's Fianna, and
removed him into Tir-na-n-Og, when he died, having been ripped by the
tusks of the wild boar on the peaks of Slieve Gulban.

Lu Lamfáda was the patron god of Cuculain. He was surnamed Ioldana, as
the source of the sciences, and represented the Greek Apollo. The latter
was argurgurotoxos [Transcriber's Note: Greek in the original], but Lu
was a sling bearing god. Of Fomorian descent on the mother's side,
he joined his father's people, the Tuátha De Danan, in the great war
against the Fomoroh. He is principally celebrated for his oppression of
the sons of Turann, in vengeance for the murder of his father.

 ANGUS OG, (circa 1500 B.C.)           LU LAMFADA, (circa 1500 B.C.)
    son of                                son of
 THE DAGDA, (Zeus)                     Cian,
    son of                                son of
 Elathan,                              Diancéct, (god the healer)
    son of                                son of
 Dela,                                 Esric,
    son of                                son of
 Ned,                                  Dela,
    son of                                son of
 Indaei,                               Ned,
    son of                                son of
                                          son of ALLDAEI.

Amongst other Irish gods was Bove Derg, who dwelt invisible in the
Galtee mountains, and in the hills above Lough Derg. The transformed
children alluded to in Vol. I. were his grand-children. It was his
goldsmith Len, who gave its ancient name to the Lakes of Killarney,
Locha Lein. Here by the lake he worked, surrounded by rainbows and
showers of fiery dew.

Mananan was the god of the sea, of winds and storms, and most skilled
in magic lore. He was friendly to Cuculain, and was invoked by seafaring
men. He was called the Far Shee of the promontories.

   BOVE DERG (circa 1500 B.C.)           MANANAN (circa 1500 B.C.)
      son of                                son of
   Eocaidh Garf,                         Alloid,
      son of                                son of
   Duach Temen,                          Elathan,
      son of                                son of
   Bras,                                 Dela,
      son of                                son of
   Dela,                                 Ned,
      son of                                son of
   Ned,                                  Indaei,
      son of                                son of
      son of ALLDAEI.

The Tuátha De Danan maybe counted literally by the hundred, each with a
distinct history, and all descended from Alldaei.

From Alldaei the pedigree runs back thus:--

                 son of
                 son of
                 son of
                 son of
                 son of
                 son of
                 son of
                 son of
        NEMEDH (circa 1700 B.C.)

Nemedh, as I have said, forms one of the great epochs in the
mythological record. As will be seen, he and the earlier Partholan have
a common source:--

      son of
      son of
      son of
   Tath,                                 PARTHOLAN (2000 B.C.)
      son of                                son of
                        son of
                        son of
                        son of

The connection between Keasair, the earliest of the Irish gods, and
the rest of the cycle, I have not discovered, but am confident of its

How this divine cycle can be expunged from the history of Ireland I am
at a loss to see. The account which a nation renders of itself must, and
always does, stand at the head of every history.

How different is this from the history and genealogy of the Greek gods
which runs thus:--

         The Olympian gods,
         Physical entities, Nox, Chaos, &c.

The Greek gods, undoubtedly, had a long ancestry extending into the
depths of the past, but the sudden advent of civilisation broke up
the bardic system before the historians could become philosophical, or
philosophers interested in antiquities.

But the Irish history corrects our view with regard to other matters
connected with the gods of the Aryan nations of Europe also.

All the nations of Europe lived at one time under the bardic and druidic
system, and under that system imagined their gods and elaborated their
various theogonies, yet, in no country in Europe has a bardic literature
been preserved except in Ireland, for no thinking man can believe Homer
to have been a product of that rude type of civilisation of which he
sings. This being the case, modern philosophy, accounting for the origin
of the classical deities by guesses and _a priori_ reasonings, has
almost universally adopted that explanation which I have, elsewhere,
called Wordsworthian, and which derives them directly from the
imagination personifying the aspects of nature.

     "In that fair clime, the lonely herdsman, stretched
      On the soft grass through half a summer's day,
      With music lulled his indolent repose,
      And in some fit of weariness if he,
      When his own breath was silent, chanced to hear
      A distant strain far sweeter than the sounds
      Which his poor skill could make, his fancy fetched,
      Even from the blazing chariot of the sun,
      A beardless youth who touched a golden lute
      And filled the illumined groves with ravishment--
              "Sunbeams upon distant hills,
      Gliding apace with shadows in their train,
      Might, with small help from fancy, be transformed
      Into fleet oreads, sporting visibly."

This is pretty, but untrue. In all the ancient Irish literature we find
the connection of the gods, both those who survived into the historic
times, and those whom they had dethroned, with the raths and cairns
perpetually and almost universally insisted upon. The scene of the
destruction of the Firbolgs will be found to be a place of tombs, the
metropolis of the Fomorians a place of tombs, and a place of tombs the
sacred home of the Tuátha along the shores of the Boyne. Doubtless, they
are represented also as dwelling in the hills, lakes, and rivers, but
still the connection between the great raths and cairns and the gods
is never really forgotten. When the floruit of a god has expired, he
is assigned a tomb in one of the great tumuli. No one can peruse this
ancient literature without seeing clearly the genesis of the Irish gods,
_videlicet_ heroes, passing, through the imagination and through the
region of poetic representation, into the world of the supernatural.
When a king died, his people raised his ferta, set up his stone, and
engraved upon it, at least in later times, his name in ogham. They
celebrated his death with funeral lamentations and funeral games, and
listened to the bards chanting his prowess, his liberality, and his
beauty. In the case of great warriors, these games and lamentations
became periodical. It is distinctly recorded in many places, for
instance in connection with Taylti, who gave her name to Taylteen and
Garman, who gave her name to Loch Garman, now Wexford, and with Lu
Lamfáda, whose annual worship gave its name to the Kalends of August.
Gradually, as his actual achievements became more remote, and the
imagination of the bards, proportionately, more unrestrained, he would
pass into the world of the supernatural. Even in the case of a hero
so surrounded with historic light as Cuculain we find a halo, as of
godhood, often settling around him. His gray warsteed had already passed
into the realm of mythical representation, as a second avatar of the
Liath Macha, the grey war-horse of the war-goddess Macha. This could be
believed, even in the days when the imagination was controlled by the
annalists and tribal heralds.

The gods of the Irish were their deified ancestors. They were not the
offspring of the poetic imagination, personifying the various aspects of
nature. Traces, indeed, we find of their influence over the operations
of nature, but they are, upon the whole, slight and unimportant.
From nature they extract her secrets by their necromantic and magical
labours, but nature is as yet too great to be governed and impelled by
them. The Irish Apollo had not yet entered into the sun.

Like every country upon which imperial Rome did not leave the impress
of her genius, Ireland, in these ethnic times, attained only a
partial unity. The chief king indeed presided at Tara, and enjoyed the
reputation and emoluments flowing to him on that account, but, upon the
whole, no Irish king exercised more than a local sovereignty; they were
all reguli, petty kings, and their direct authority was small. This
being the case, it would appear to me that in the more ancient times
the death of a king would not be an event which would disturb a very
extensive district, and that, though his tomb might be considerable, it
would not be gigantic.

Now on the banks of the Boyne, opposite Rosnaree, there stands a
tumulus, said to be the greatest in Europe. It covers acres of ground,
being of proportionate height. The earth is confined by a compact stone
wall about twelve feet high. The central chamber, made of huge irregular
pebbles, is about twenty feet from ground to roof, communicating with
the outer air by a flagged passage. Immense pebbles, drawn from the
County of Antrim, stand around it, each of which, even to move at
all, would require the labour of many men, assisted with mechanical
appliances. It is, of course, impossible to make an accurate estimate of
the expenditure of labour necessary for the construction of such a work,
but it would seem to me to require thousands of men working for years.
Can we imagine that a petty king of those times could, after his
death, when probably his successor had enough to do to sustain his new
authority, command such labour merely to provide for himself a tomb. If
this tomb were raised to the hero whose name it bears immediately after
his death, and in his mundane character, he must have been such a king
as never existed in Ireland, even in the late Christian times.
Even Brian of the Tributes himself, could not have commanded such a
sepulture, or anything like it, living though he did, probably, two
thousand years later than that Eocaidh Mac Elathan, whenever he did
live. There is a _nodus_ here needing a god to solve it.

Returning now to what would most likely take place after the interment
of a hero, we may well imagine that the size of his tomb would be in
proportion to the love which he inspired, where no accidental causes
would interfere with the gratification of that feeling. Of one of his
heroes, Ossian, sings--

    "We made his cairn great and high
     Like a king's."

After that there would be periodical meetings in his honour, the
celebration of games, solemn recitations by bards, singing his aristeia
[Transcriber's Note: Greek in the original]. Gradually the new wine
would burst the old bottles. The ever-active, eager-loving imagination
would behold the champion grown to heroic proportions, the favourite of
the gods, the performer of superhuman feats. The tomb, which was once
commensurate with the love and reverence which he inspired, would seem
so now no longer. The tribal bards, wandering or attending the great
fairs and assemblies, would disperse among strangers and neighbours a
knowledge of his renown. In the same cemetery or neighbourhood their
might be other tombs of heroes now forgotten, while he, whose fame was
in every bardic mouth in all that region, was honoured only with a tomb
no greater than theirs. The mere king or champion, grown into a topical
hero, would need a greater tomb.

Ere long again, owing to the bardic fraternity, who, though coming from
Innishowen or Cape Clear, formed a single community, the topical hero
would, in some cases, where his character was such as would excite
deeper reverence and greater fame, grow into a national hero, and a
still nobler tomb be required, in order that the visible memorial might
prove commensurate with the imaginative conception.

Now all this time the periodic celebrations, the games, and
lamentations, and songs would be assuming a more solemn character. Awe
would more and more mingle with the other feelings inspired by his name.
Certain rites and a certain ritual would attend those annual games
and lamentations, which would formerly not have been suitable, and
eventually, when the hero, slowly drawing nearer through generations,
if not centuries, at last reached Tir-na-n-Og, and was received into
the family of the gods, a religious feeling of a different nature would
mingle with the more secular celebration of his memory, and his rath or
cairn would assume in their eyes a new character.

To an ardent imaginative people the complete extinction by death of a
much-loved hero would even at first be hardly possible. That the tomb
which held his ashes should be looked upon as the house of the hero must
have been, even shortly after his interment, a prevailing sentiment,
whether expressed or not. Also, the feeling must have been present,
that the hero in whose honour they performed the annual games, and
periodically chanted the remembrance of whose achievements, saw and
heard those things that were done in his honour. But as the celebration
became greater and more solemn, this feeling would become more strong,
and as the tomb, from a small heap of stones or low mound, grew into an
enormous and imposing rath, the belief that this was the hero's house,
in which he invisibly dwelt, could not be avoided, even before they
ceased to regard him as a disembodied hero; and after the hero had
mingled with the divine clans, and was numbered amongst the gods, the
idea that the rath was a tomb could not logically be entertained. As
a god, was he not one of those who had eaten of the food provided by
Mananan, and therefore never died. The rath would then become his house
or temple. As matter of fact, the bardic writings teem with this idea.
From reason and probability, we would with some certainty conclude that
the great tumulus of New Grange was the temple of some Irish god; but
that it was so, we know as a fact. The father and king of the gods
is alluded to as dwelling there, going out from thence, and returning
again, and there holding his invisible court.

      "Behold the _Sid_ before your eyes,
       It is manifest to you that it is a king's mansion."
[Note: O'Curry's Manuscript Materials of Irish History, page 505.]

      "Bove Derg went to visit the Dagda at the Brugh of Mac-An-Og."
[Note: "Dream of Angus," Révue Celtique, Vol. III., page 349.]

Here also dwelt Angus Og, the son of the Dagda. In this, his spiritual
court or temple, he is represented as having entertained Oscar and
the Ossianic heroes, and thither he conducted [Note: Publications of
Ossianic Society, Vol. III., page 201.] the spirit of Diarmid, that he
might have him for ever there.

In the etymology also we see the origin of the Irish gods. A grave in
Irish is Sid, the disembodied spirit is Sidhe, and this latter word
glosses Tuátha De Danan.

The fact that the grave of a hero developed slowly into the temple of
a god, explains certain obscurities in the annals and literature. As
a hero was exalted into a god, so in turn a god sank into a hero,
or rather into the race of the giants. The elder gods, conquered and
destroyed by the younger, could no longer be regarded as really divine,
for were they not proved to be mortal? The development of the temple
from the tomb was not forgotten, the whole country being filled with
such tombs and incipient temples, from the great Brugh on the Boyne to
the smallest mound in any of the cemeteries. Thus, when the elder gods
lost their spiritual sovereignty, and their destruction at the hands of
the younger took the form of great battles, then as the god was forced
to become a giant, so his temple was remembered to be a tomb. Doubtless,
in his own territory, divine honours were still paid him; but in the
national imagination and in the classical literature and received
history, he was a giant of the olden time, slain by the gods, and
interred in the rath which bore his name. Such was the great Mac Erc,
King of Fir-bolgs.

Again, when the mediaeval Christians ceased to regard the Tuátha De
Danan as devils, and proceeded to rationalise the divine record as the
ethnic bards had rationalised the history of the early gods; the Tuátha
De Danan, shorn of immortality, became ancient heroes who had lived
their day and died, and the greater raths, no longer the houses of the
gods, figure in that literature irrationally rational, as their tombs.
Thus we are gravely informed [Note: Annals of Four Masters.] that "the
Dagda Mor, after the second battle of Moy Tura, retired to the Brugh on
the Boyne, where he died from the venom of the wounds inflicted on him
by Kethlenn"--the Fomorian amazon--"and was there interred." Even in
this passage the writer seems to have been unable to dispossess his mind
quite of the traditional belief that the Brugh was the Dagda's house.

The peculiarity of this mound, in addition to its size, is the
spaciousness of the central chamber. This was that germ which, but for
the overthrow of the bardic religion, would have developed into a temple
in the classic sense of the word. A two-fold motive would have impelled
the growing civilisation in this direction. A desire to make the house
of the god as spacious within as it was great without, and a desire to
transfer his worship, or the more esoteric and solemn part of it, from
without to within. Either the absence of architectural knowledge, or
the force of conservatism, or the advent of the Christian missionaries,
checked any further development on these lines.

Elsewhere the tomb, instead of developing as a tumulus or barrow,
produced the effect of greatness by huge circumvallations of earth, and
massive walls of stone. Such is the temple of Ned the war-god, called
Aula Neid, the court or palace of Ned, near the Foyle in the North. Had
the ethnic civilisation of Ireland been suffered to develop according to
its own laws, it is probable that, as the roofed central chamber of the
cairn would have grown until it filled the space occupied by the mound,
so the open-walled temple would have developed into a covered building,
by the elevation of the walls, and their gradual inclination to the

The bee-hive houses of the monks, the early churches, and the round
towers are a development of that architecture which constructed the
central chambers of the raths. In this fact lies, too, the explanation
of the cyclopean style of building which characterizes our most ancient
buildings. The cromlech alone, formed in very ancient times the central
chamber of the cairn; it is found in the centre of the raths on Moy
Tura, belonging to the stone age and that of the Firbolgs. When the
cromlech fell into disuse, the arched chamber above the ashes of the
hero was constructed with enormous stones, as a substitute for the
majestic appearance presented by the massive slab and supporting pillars
of the more ancient cromlech, and the early stone buildings preserved
the same characteristic to a certain extent.

The same sentiment which caused the mediaeval Christians to disinter and
enshrine the bones of their saints, and subsequently to re-enshrine
them with greater art and more precious materials, caused the ethnic
worshippers of heroes to erect nobler tombs over the inurned relics
of those whom they revered, as the meanness of the tomb was seen to
misrepresent and humiliate the sublimity of the conception. But the
Christians could never have imagined their saints to have been anything
but men--a fact which caused the retention and preservation of the
relics. When the Gentiles exalted their hero into a god, the charred
bones were forgotten or ascribed to another. The hero then became
immortal in his own right; he had feasted with Mananan and eaten his
life-giving food, and would not know death.

When the mortal character of the hero was forgotten, his house or temple
might be erected anywhere. The great Raths of the Boyne--a place grown
sacred from causes which we may not now learn--represented, probably,
heroes and heroines, who died and were interred in many different parts
of the country.

To recapitulate, the Dagda Mor was a divine title given to a hero named
Eocaidh, who lived many centuries before the birth of Christ, and in the
depths of the pre-historic ages. He was the mortal scion or ward of
an elder god, Elathan, and was interred in some unknown grave--marked,
perhaps, by a plain pillar stone, or small insignificant cairn.

The great tumulus of New Grange was the temple of the divine or
supernatural period of his spiritual or imagined career after death, and
was a development by steps from that small unremembered grave where once
his warriors hid the inurned ashes of the hero.

What is true of one branch of the Aryan family is true of all.
Sentiments of such universality and depth must have been common to all.
If this be so, the Olympian Zeus himself was once some rude chieftain
dwelling in Thrace or Macedonia, and his sublime temple of Doric
architecture traceable to some insignificant cairn or flagged cist in
Greece, or some earlier home of the Hellenic race, and his name not
Zeus, but another; and Kronos, that god whom he, as a living wight,
adored, and under whose protection and favour he prospered.

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